10 Things A Degree in Theatre Gets You

19359_1211204044167_2581855_n

I earned my BFA in Theatre from Marshall University over seventeen years ago.  From a toe tapping Annie, Get Your Gun my freshman year to a senior project capstone performance of Alan Bennett’s harrowing A Chip in the Sugar, those years from 1994-1998 were filled with lots of amazing, uncertain, fun, and funny times.  I was having a blast most of the time, but I was also learning some very important life and work skills.  Below are ten things I got from earning a degree in Theatre.

10. Physical fitness:  I’ll put twelve hour days in the scene shop and rehearsal space, near constant movement in both, ahead of any Zumba class you’re likely to find (though I hear those are pretty cool, too.)

9. Teamwork:  You literally can’t do theatre on your own.  It takes a team, and cooperation skills and people skills (not to mention conflict resolution skills) go far in nearly any field you may endeavor toward.

8. Empathy:  Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and attempt to see life as they see it is a quality that seems to be diminishing in the real world, but it is at the very heart of the theatre.  It’s why actors act, and why audiences are interested.

7. Friendship:  Friendships forged through the process of playmaking are special and often long lasting.

6. Communication Skills:  I once read a study about fear.  A majority of participants listed public speaking as their #1 fear in life.  Death was #2.  That’s how skittish we are when it comes to speaking in front of a crowd.  Theatre breaks down those fears, barriers.  This is an especially important skill to have in a world where face to face communication sometimes seems to be losing to other communication channels.

5. No!:  You’ll hear that word a lot.  Your favorite director will not always cast you.  Your renderings won’t always earn an A.  And the manager at your part time restaurant job won’t always understand why you need evenings off for the next seven weeks to rehearse Blithe Spirit.  Rejection builds character, and we could all use a bit thicker skin.

4. Multitasking Skills:  At any given point you may be almost simultaneously sketching a costume idea for Amanda Wingfield, memorizing lines for a play your best friend wrote, and trying to decipher the meaning in a Samuel Beckett play.  And that’s all on your lunch break before the work of building a realistic box interior for Hobson’s Choice takes up your entire afternoon.  The adaptability required to do this will make you a valuable employee for someone, someday.

3. Imagination:  Theatre people, by definition, never fully lose the creative spirit that abounded when they were little kids.

2. Self-confidence:  I was a very shy kid.  Exposure to theatre really brought me out of my shell.  I’ve seen this over and over again in others, too.  Increased self-esteem is the most direct and immediate effect of stage work.

1. A job:  Since earning my Theatre degree in 1998, I’ve worked as an actor, carpenter, call center associate, political campaign manager, substitute teacher, theatre educator, playwright, college professor, and newspaper columnist.  A theatre degree also provides an excellent background for law, sales, film, media, maybe even welding if you’re in a program like the one I came up in.  Look up any job outlook survey that focuses on what skills employers are looking for (in lots of fields) and you’ll find a great deal of them on this list.

I have some other ideas, but these seemed the most important.  What else should be listed here?  Feel free to leave ideas in the comments below.

Advertisements

I Never Get Tired of A Christmas Carol…I Really Don’t

christmas-975597_640

Charles Dickens’ holiday tale holds a special place in my heart for many reasons.  My acting premiere in a big stage show was in a 1991 Community Players performance as Peter Cratchit in the Fred Fout directed A Christmas Carol at Old Main in Huntington.  To say that play changed my life would not be an overstatement.  And just eight years later, in Norfolk at Virginia Stage Company, my Ghost of Christmas Future came face to face with the great Jerome Kilty’s Ebenezer Scrooge, a most memorable experience in many wonderful ways and a pretty incredible sign of how far theatre took me in a relatively short span of time.

More often than not, though, I have been an audience member marveling at what I consider to be the greatest story ever told.  It’s a magical tale with an important message, one that will just as easily elicit tears as smiles.  It is one that goes to the very reason for the upcoming Christmas season, if you will.  I know I’m not alone, for many folks in this community have fond memories of seeing the show presented at Ashland Community and Technical College at some point over the past two decades, and some of us have seen it performed single handedly by Jack Cirillo at Marshall University a few years back.  Be it your local community theatre, a classic film adaptation, the book itself, or the Muppets version, it’s enjoyed all over.

Marshall University Theatre students will present A Christmas Carol November 18-21 at the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse.  I’ve seen them do this before and it was amazing.  Ashland Community and Technical College will continue their long tradition of presenting the show in early December, as well.  At ACTC hundreds of schoolkids will see one of three sold out student matinees December 2, 3, and 4, (I’m sure MU has some school matinees, too) while performances open to the community will be staged Thursday, December 3 through Sunday, December 6.  Hopefully, all will leave the theatre with a carol in their head, a message in their heart, and new memories of an age old story.  Who knows, but somewhere in the mix may be a young one whose life will be forever altered.

10 Super Cool Things About Ashland Community and Technical College

newplayfest4

I’m closing in on six years of work at Ashland Community and Technical College.  I’m thankful for my job, my classes, my students, my colleagues, and much more.  I love it here.  Always have.  We’re not without our problems.  Not at all.  No one is.  But this list is about the good that is here, and there’s a whole lot of super cool things about ACTC.

10.  Community College Week recently listed ACTC as a Top 100 two-year institution in number of one-year certificates awarded.

9.  As a part of the school’s annual playwriting class, Humanities students have an opportunity to write plays and see them performed at a New Play Festival that has garnered quite a bit of attention locally and in The Dramatist magazine.  Art students’ work is also featured/displayed in what has become a real showcase for the Humanities over the past two years.

8.  Community College Week also listed ACTC as a Top 50 two-year institution in the number of associate degrees awarded for science technologies/technicians. The school has received this recognition for several years, and is the only Kentucky college on the list.

7.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, ACTC’s tuition is a whopping 52% lower than the average Kentucky two year institution.

6.  Students rave about Student Support Services, a grant funded program that offers eligible students a wide variety of supplemental services related to advising, career counseling, and much more.

5.  ACTC students participate in national writing projects like This I Believe and The Ohio State University’s Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.  Many even get such works published.  Here’s one of many examples:  http://thisibelieve.org/essay/124005/

4.  Over 1,000 students, 4th – 12th graders, in a five county area prepared a project for ACTC’s most recent annual Science and Engineering Fair.

3.  Typically held in large metropolitan areas, the Young Women LEAD Conference is set for Ashland for a third straight year.  This conference is geared toward high school junior girls and has had a big impact and a positive influence on all of Eastern Kentucky.

2.  Just a couple years ago the Aspen Institute ranked ACTC in the top 10% of all community colleges (1,200+) in the country.

1.  Starting your college education at ACTC and then transferring to a four year college after earning that Associate degree can save you eight to ten thousand dollars, maybe more depending on your destination.

actclevi2

3

Three weeks is about how long it takes to settle into a new routine, I guess.  My son is three weeks into Kindergarten.  I am three weeks into a new semester.  All is well.

For Levi’s part, Week 3 brought about his first homework, and studies regarding the alphabet, writing letters, and reading.

For me, Week 3 ushered in dialogue studies with my playwriting students (these resulted in some wonderful short scenes), as well as rough draft work and reading/response activities with all ENG 101 and 102 classes.

For our reward:  a three day weekend.  Happy Labor Day!

Back to School 2015

The first week of a new semester has come and gone at Ashland Community and Technical College.

I love the beginning of a new school year.  There’s so much optimism in the air, and a real sense of renewal for some.  A new beginning, with a blank slate ahead makes for an exciting and hopeful time.  The challenge, of course, is to keep up the momentum and motivation for the 15 week long haul from now until finals week.

This is one of the best first weeks I can recall in my twelve years of higher ed teaching.  Maybe it’s because, as I get older, I appreciate the little things more.  Or maybe this really is a very special group of students that I met and worked with this week.  Maybe it’s just because I’ve always enjoyed college – so much, in fact, that I never left – and I get nostalgic around this time of year.

This week I’ve met future teachers and future nurses and future electricians and much more.  I’ve met folks right out of high school and others coming back to college after long, long absences.  I’ve met men and women of all walks of life.  The vast majority of them seem engaged and ready for the long, hard journey ahead.

Back to school has been on my mind a lot lately.  Not only is it back to work for me, but I blinked and all of the sudden my five year old son is in Kindergarten.  Folks say time flies, and they’re right.  Hard to believe.  Thankfully, we both had a successful first week.

Bring it on, 2015-16 school year.  We’re ready for you.  Here’s to students and teachers all over, from far and wide, from Kindergarten to grad school and everywhere in between.  Work hard, play hard, and have a great year.  Now when is the next three day weekend?

On Teaching

actclevi

My desire to teach was a seed likely planted in my dad’s lab at Marshall University in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  He took me to school with him often, and his job always fascinated me.  My desire to teach was developed even further by a great many teachers that influenced me.  (I wrote a blog about them, too, of course.)  At some point, by the time I reached my early thirties, I realized there was nothing else I would rather be doing.

Recently, I was asked to write a narrative describing my teaching philosophy or my why and to relate it to specific course goals, examples, etc.  Below is the short version (that’s right, the short version is over 800 words).  It’s difficult to sum this all up in words, as so many intangible things happen in the classroom and in the life of a teacher.  Regardless, this is my best attempt to do just that.

———-

I read and write because I love the written word.  I love the excitement that comes with creating a character and seeing it come to life and find its way in a story of my own making.  I equally enjoy getting caught up in the stories of others.  One message that I share with my students is that, “Everyone has a story.”  Unfortunately not many of us take the time to write our story.  Putting our thoughts, beliefs, histories down on paper is great way to preserve them for ourselves and for future generations.  Beyond that, I also share that oral and written communication is consistently the number one job skill sought by employers.  It is also a necessary skill for success at the college level.  Therefore, my students journey each semester to become better writers for these three reasons:  to express our experiences, to succeed in college-level coursework, and to someday get a good job.  Success in written communication can build a bridge to all three.

One of the course goals in ENG 101 is to, “plan, draft, revise, proofread, and edit to produce well-written essays.”  I use a variety of assignments to accomplish the three goals listed in the first paragraph, as well as this particular course goal.  Students enjoy narrative works like the This I Believe essay or a Literacy Narrative essay, both parts of national writing projects that allow them to explore their own experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs.  They are challenged by writing a Critique of an artistic work that forces them to not just summarize, but deconstruct some work using a series of analytical questions I provide.  They are taxed with research strategies to compose the perfect, academic, argumentative piece that works to both inform and persuade the reader (and simultaneously understand both sides of an issue).  These are just a few examples of essays that I regularly use to capture the imagination and test the wits of our students.  They have succeeded beyond measure.  One student recently e-mailed to let me know that her This I Believe essay was published on the TIB website.  Another informed me that the research he conducted on an argumentative piece had caused him to rethink his stance on a particular issue.  A third student, age 47, shared that he enjoyed my class and found himself reading and writing more than ever before.  These students, and many others like them that attended class regularly and really accepted the spirit of the course, excelled in every step of the writing process from topic selection to rough drafts to revision.  This course goal is at the heart of ENG 101 (“to plan, draft, revise, proofread, and edit to produce well-written essays”) and I hear, read, and see proof of its success every week.

I begin the semester with a grammar review.  This is often conducted as a 25-30 question quiz that tests knowledge of parts of speech, punctuation, sentence structure, research strategies, citing sources, and more.  This is an important part of the class because it gives me immediate feedback regarding the strengths and weakness of each student and allows me to develop an action plan.  Another course goal is to, “write in Standard English that is appropriate for purpose and audience.”  In order to do that, students must get the fundamentals.  This grammar test and activities that follow are designed to do just that.  For the 2013-14 school year, my ENG 101 students averaged a 66% on this test at the beginning of each semester.  By the end of each term, those scores improved dramatically, in every class, with an 80% being the average end score.  That’s a jump of fourteen percentage points on a relatively difficult exam and that’s just the average.  Many students improved more than that.  It is difficult to judge English and Writing by the numbers, but in this case, I’ll definitely take those numbers.  I have also worked on an ENG 101 assessment on Blackboard that is used in all 101 classes.  That test is even more difficult than the one previously mentioned, yet we have seen (as an entire department) dramatic improvement in those numbers, as well.

While the two previous examples deal directly with goals in ENG 101, I have also had the exciting task of testing out a new playwriting course on campus this year.  ENG 207 saw students write monologues, short scenes, ten minute plays, and one acts that will be performed as part of an annual New Play Festival of student and faculty written work in the campus theatre.  “Create” is at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and that is exactly what this group of students did.  Their written creations, these new plays, will find a voice on a stage and speak to an audience in a venue that few writers (much less college students) have.  And I get to lead, or at least be a part of, their creative journey.

I love to read and write, and I love to teach.  I am blessed to have the classroom as a place where my enthusiasm for the written word can meet the needs of a group of students and community, as well as the goals for the College.

Thank you, KinderCollege!

kindercollege

On Thursday, April 9, Toddler 1, Toddler 2, and Preschool students at Ashland’s KinderCollege presented their spring “Watch Us Grow” program to an eager audience on the Ashland Community and Technical College campus, and it was every bit as adorable as it sounds.  From “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to “Wheels on the Bus” to “One Small Voice” these youngsters enthralled a large audience of family, friends, and more.

I watched from that audience as my five year old son performed in his last of six or seven like programs that he has been a part of in his young life.  He’s been a student at the KinderCollege since he was nine months old and now, at five, he is just a few months away from moving on to Kindergarten.

The KinderCollege is part of the Boyd County school system, located in a state of the art facility on the campus of ACTC.  In my son’s four plus years at the school, he’s grown from taking his first steps to taking the stage to sing, dance, and smile along with his friends.  Of course, he has some pretty terrific parents, but his development with math, the alphabet, and social skills is also thanks in large part to the devoted, loving, and fun KinderCollege staff that has nurtured him from diapers to the spotlight.

I couldn’t even begin to list the wonderful teachers that have impacted my boy, and this is a great testament to the work they do.  This is not limited to the KinderCollege, though.  I’ve always felt that one of Ashland’s greatest strengths is education.  I’ve seen this firsthand, over the past fifteen years, as a sub long ago, to my time as the theatre artist in residence at the Paramount Arts Center, to my current work at ACTC.

In my capacity in all of the above, I have spent time in nearly every elementary school, middle school, high school, and college in the greater Ashland area.  From my days as “Mr. Imagination” at Summit Elementary fifteen years ago, to my work with many of the Paramount’s programs for youth from 2001-2009, to my current work at a community college that has twice been ranked nationally among one of the top 10% in the country, I have always marveled at the dedication with which our teachers approach the important work of preparing students for the future.

Here’s to the teachers that fill the schools of the greater Ashland area.  Thank you!  I am proud to count myself as one of your members, and it has been a pleasure to serve alongside you all these years.  Keep up the good work.

And a big thank you to those KinderCollege folks across the street from my ACTC office.  Kindergarten does not begin until August.  Still, as he took his final bow on stage the other night, I felt like he was saying goodbye to much more than just that April 9 audience.  I am excited about the road ahead, but thankful for his past and present with you.